The Prime Minister once again has a speaking slot at the pōwhiri in Waitangi after earlier on Saturday saying he would respect the wishes of the trust organisers by not doing so

The Waitangi National Trust has given the green light for Chris Hipkins and other political leaders to speak at the pōwhiri on Sunday after a day of confusing messages that resulted in the Prime Minister earlier confirming he would respect organisers’ wishes.

The Trust wrote to political parties last month saying they didn’t want political leaders to speak at the pōwhiri held on the eve of Waitangi Day, and a spokesperson for the Prime Minister told media on Saturday Hipkins accepted their rules and tikanga.

It comes after Te Tai Tokerau MP and Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis told Newsroom on Friday that it wasn’t for the trust to decide who spoke on behalf of manuhiri (guests to the marae) and Chris Hipkins would speak as planned.

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Waitangi organisers met Davis on January 16, just three days before Ardern announced she was stepping down as Prime Minister, to outline changes to the tikanga for this year’s pōwhiri in an attempt to take the politics out of it and return the focus to the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Waitangi National Trust told Davis political leaders, including the Prime Minister, wouldn’t have a speaking slot – instead, they would be invited to a separate moderated political panel later in the day, away from the main event.

During the formal pōwhiri the Trust asked that up to five MPs from any of the visiting political parties spoke in place of the leaders.

That change was confirmed in a letter to Davis from the Trust in late January, by which point Chris Hipkins had been sworn-in as Prime Minister.

Davis told Newsroom on Friday it wasn’t for local iwi or Waitangi organisers to dictate who did or didn’t speak.

“In a pōwhiri, people don’t get to say who is speaking and direct the traffic. It’s over to manuhiri to put up who they want to speak – that’s tikanga the country over, so that’s what we’re doing, and the PM will get the chance to say a few things as planned before heading off for a kai,” Davis said.

Asked whether politicians would simply ignore the request of the Trust, Davis said, “we’re manuhiri, and we’ll determine who speaks for us”.

Newsroom understands meetings were held on Friday night about how best to deal with the trust’s request, and the decision was made to respect its wishes.

Hipkins had said he wouldn’t take part in the political panel after the pōwhiri as he already had other engagements he had committed to attend. He had prepared a speech for the pōwhiri that it’s understood he planned to deliver at another time if not at the pōwhiri.

That would have meant the new Prime Minister would not address those gathered in Waitangi this weekend – a big move away from the exceptions to tikanga that have existed in recent years to allow former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to do so.

ACT leader David Seymour said he’d been planning to be at Waitangi for months and will still arrive on Sunday morning and would speak.

The National Party received word from the trust on Saturday afternoon that Christopher Luxon was welcome to speak and that it was appropriate for him to do so.

It was that communication that prompted the Prime Minister’s office to go back to organisers and once again check what the tikanga was, at which point the Government was told Hipkins was welcome to speak.

A spokesperson for Hipkins said providing that remained the case on Sunday then he would “happily” do so at the pōwhiri.

Te Pāti Māori and the Green Party will also have their leaders speak.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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